19 October 2010

Grantee Report Offers New View on Economic Security

A report [pdf] just released by Ms. Foundation grantee Wider Opportunities for Women takes a close look at what it takes to achieve real economic security in one region of America -- and the results show just how far short many Americans are falling when it comes to achieving that dream, thanks to ever widening gaps between the "haves" and "have-nots."

As a recent article in The Washington Post explains, WOW's "Basic Economic Security Tables" (BEST) for the Washington, DC Metro Area calculates the monthly income necessary for families to move beyond the poverty line and attain economic security -- covering a range of expenses like child care (which often ranked as families' largest expense), housing, health care, transportation, savings and retirement. The report is the first of its kind to factor savings into the mix (in the form of a small emergency fund) when calculating what it takes to achieve true economic security -- an effort to help policymakers understand what is required to get families beyond the point of "just scraping by."

Using WOW's criteria, the report finds that roughly half the district’s residents – mostly single parents – fall below standards of economic security. A single parent raising an infant, for example, needs an income of approximately $57,000 per year – or a $27-per-hour wage in a full-time job – to be economically secure. That means that single parents working at minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) would need to work nearly four full-time jobs in order to achieve a reasonable measure of economic security for their families. With a full three out of every four single parent homes headed up by mothers, women are clearly feeling the disproportionate impact of economic insecurity -- particularly low-income women and women of color, whose economic resources are generally more limited.

As the recession keeps pushing more and more of us into economic crisis, concerns continue to grow about how American families will be able make ends meet. "We're facing a growing gap between the top and bottom, with increasing unemployment and job losses and people making less than they did a couple years ago," Audrey Singer, a demographer with the Brookings Institution told the Post. With a new administration set to take over in DC in January 2011, WOW is looking to use the BEST report to help focus policymakers on the need to create good jobs in the district, as well as training opportunities and affordable childcare for families in the DC area.

"This report should be a call to action for the incoming administration to refocus the District's economic development strategy on creating real economic security for families," offered WOW Executive Director Joan Kuriansky in a recent press release. "That means investing in good jobs and connecting people to training and education, coordinating affordable child care and housing, promoting savings for emergencies and retirement, and working with the entire D.C. community to forge ahead."

Development of The Basic Economic Security Tables Index was funded by the Washington Area Women’s Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Freddie Mac Foundation.

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